Bringing Down the Weight

I’m not much of a shopper. I don’t bother to buy any new clothes until I look in the closet and find myself hating everything hanging there. At this point, I generally go out and pick up a bundle in one fell swoop. I don’t buy any more until that same feeling rises up again.

Camping gear is different matter. I first fell in love with it when I was a child. In those days, my brother and I used to eye each other’s things, and if one of us became jealous of something the other one owned, swiping it wasn’t out of the question. Cherished items regularly moved back and forth between our respective bedrooms. I guess you could call this a de facto form of “sharing.”

One year, my brother received a children’s book about camping. Each compelling piece of equipment was cheerfully illustrated and identified. I would read through this book feeling upset that it had been given to him. I felt the same way about his Big Jim Camper, complete with accessories: a sleeping bag, pots and pans, camp chairs, a camp table, fire pit and grill, a lantern (check it out on eBay).

I present this backstory, because this year I have joined the ultralight cult. At the age of 53, I have decided to become serious about backpacking—something I planned to do in my twenties, but never quite managed to pull off. I am hoping I will remain strong enough to enjoy regular outings on some of the remarkable trails around here, not to mention places yonder. After surveying the equipment I already had—the backpack I was given at the age of eleven and a sleeping bag that is much too heavy—I started reading up on the ultralight phenomenon in order to figure out just what to collect for this pursuit.

Ultralight has become the buzzword for the lightest backpacking gear on earth. Manufacturers continue to work out ways to make sleeping bags, backpacks, cookware, clothing, sleeping pads, and more as light as possible. Thus the lightest gear is the newest gear. It is also the most expensive gear. It is easy to get sucked into this idea that “I could just buy a particular item, my full backpack would end up being even lighter.”

If I do manage to take some significant pounds off my pack, perhaps I’ll be able to trek into my eighties. Indeed, I’m now aspiring to locate a set of equipment that will outlast these AARP years. Yet I’m not reaching for the lightest option in every case. Sometimes it becomes a choice between weight and design.

For example, I now own a zipper-less sleeping bag, complete with a comforter feature that allows the sleeper to feel like she is resting in a genuine bed instead a mummy bag. This Backcountry Bed, sold by Sierra Designs, weighs in at 3 pounds, 1 ounce. If I’d gone with a ZPack quilt, I could have gotten my bag down to 14 ounces. You see how one could become obsessive about this stuff.

Then there’s the SteriPEN—for purifying water. While it’s not the lightest system, it might be the most convenient. Dip the lighted pen into a liter of contaminated water for less than a minute, and voila… Your water is ready to drink. The outdoor enthusiast choosing this option then faces a choice between the model on its way out (the one requiring 4 double A batteries) and the SteriPEN Ultra, which is better on the environment as it is rechargeable. A note of caution: those going with the Ultra would be wise to also purchase the lightest solar recharger on the market.

In any event, every time I order an item, such as an ultralight tent or a light sleeping bag or a Jetboil cooking system, I feel the pleasure response cranking up to high. There’s at least one term for this psychological state. The Urban Dictionary defines it as purchase pleasure – “the unexplained feeling of bliss, joy and satisfaction one gets following a purchase.” They go on to note: “It can last anything from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the size, worth or usefulness of the item acquired.”

I do wonder if, ten years from now, the latest gear will be so much lighter, so much more ingeniously designed, I will want to start this process all over again. For now, I am looking forward to trying this stuff out on my next trip.

Update: I somehow missed the SteriPEN Mini Water Purifier that weighs in at 2.3 ounces and takes 2 CR 123 disposable lithium batteries.